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MATO SECO EM CHAMAS (Dry Ground Burning) was filmed over a three-year period in Sol Nascente and Ceilândia, satellite-cities of Brasília, the Federal Capital of Brazil. The film emerged from the desire to construct a fable about Brazilian politics from the perspective of the people who live in the periphery of this Federal District. It is permeated with the contradictions that this space gradually revealed over several years of shooting, and embedded in Brazil’s current political moment. It was propelled by the desire to make a film committed to a local grammar, very different from the official grammar of the Brazilian capitals. We entered into the world of the real to construct a fiction that could serve as a form of revenge against a certain Brazilian elite, colonized, violent, archaic, mediocre. A film that could imagine, through images, the territory that is experienced by the bodies and desires of an entire generation of people who were dislocated, segregated, and incarcerated by the project of a Brazilian nation. A project which, regardless of the political government in power at any given moment, has always discredited the Brazilian peripheral voices, their tastes, their desires, their ambitions, their ways of telling their stories.

Provoke an imaginary

At the centre of our process was an ambition to create a form of ethnography which departed from a fiction. To live and to interfere in the space of this filmed territory, to provoke an imaginary, to create legends out of experiences that didn’t need to fit into the model of intellectual sensibility that is often projected onto these spaces. We believe that the imposition of a certain sensibility—a desire to force these bodies into docility, to make them submissive to the norms of what the centre considers appropriate behaviour, good taste, or effective political action—is as perverse as the historical prejudices which create stereotypical characters. It also loses sight of the contradictions and experiences that each generation has lived through in the process of its formation.

Sol Nascente is taken over, and then it explodes.

We didn’t want the cinematographic world we were constructing to be framed by a prescripted form of thought, theory, or discourse agenda. We don’t believe in films that are made to respond to institutional demands and desires, whether progressive or reactionary. We strove, as much as possible, to question what is normally considered “correct” in representations of the periphery. We wanted to commit ourselves and the project to the contradictions that this world—part experience and part mise-en-scène—would present to us.

In dialogue with the street

These were our reflections at the beginning of the film. Reflections that came out of months of conversation and months of experimentation in these places. We had both already lived this space in our own ways before starting the project. Joana had spent two years living and working in the same area MATO SECO EM CHAMAS was filmed when she collaborated as cinematographer for Adirley’s film ERA UMA VEZ BRASÍLIA (2017). Adirley himself has lived in Ceilândia for almost fifty years, and for twenty years he has filmed the territories of Ceilândia and Sol Nascente, working with non-professional actors from the two cities. From those experiences we proposed a collaboration with people from these two territories who wanted to act, and live, in the atmosphere of cinema, who had the desire to make a film, and to experience cinema first and foremost as a form of labour.

MATO SECO EM CHAMAS is thus a film in dialogue with the street and with the experience of certain types of bodies, those who inhabit the Brazilian periphery in all its potency, tension, and contradiction. More than a question of legitimizing them by way of cinema, we wanted to create the terrain for them to take possession of the film, to occupy its centre. Our goal was to make a film that refused to soothe or contain, and rather create a space for them to confront the city, the state, and policies, each historically guided by ideologies as aseptic as they are appeasing. And we wanted it to be spoken the same way we talk to each other on the corner, with no concessions, no condescension. Fast talking, slang, invented vocabulary, new grammar, meanings that can only reveal themselves when bodies occupy a space, words that become their own territory. Cinema offered the possibility of such a space. Sol Nascente is taken over, and then it explodes. It explodes in funk, in rap, in forró, it explodes in dance, in music, in bodies. It explodes through fire. A Ceilândia both imagined and imaginary, romanticized and idealized, is consumed by flames. A Ceilândia that permitted these women to take over, which fed their fantasy—our fantasy—is razed by the flames that every August, in every drought, always threaten to destroy it.

Fables and fantasies of a country in flames

This film proposes then an adventure to six women of two neighbouring cities . With these women—Léa Alves, Joana Darc Furtado, Andreia Vieira, Débora Alencar, Mara Alves, and Gleide Firmino—we constructed a fiction that could become our space of action. A fiction where the periphery becomes the centre. A fiction that could be experienced also as a documentary process. We constructed with them characters, formed out of shared political memories and a collective imagination of these disputing territories. Our wish is to win against the fatality of the real. At the limit, the fiction becomes fragmented and turns into a political fable. During three years of production we believed in that feeling, and we searched for the political fable of a country in flames.

Joana Pimenta and Adirley Queirós

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